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Literature / A Brother's Price

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A Brother's Price is an alternate universe novel by Wen Spencer.
Jerin, a fanart by Hbruton The actual cover of the novel shows Jerin with short-ish hair.


"On an alternate Earth, where the population is ninety percent female and a man is sold by his sisters to marry all the women note  in a family, Jerin Whistler is coming of age. His mothers are respected landed gentry, his grandfather a kidnapped prince, and his grandmothers common line soldiers blackballed for treason, trained by thieves, re-enlisted as spies, and knighted for acts of valor. Jerin wants to marry well, and his sisters want a husband bought by his brother’s price."

This book is partly speculative fiction, partly something of a Romance Novel, in which gender roles are largely reversed. As a large portion of the plot is dedicated to who marries whom, it is somewhat similar to Jane Austen's works, while the setting is more like The Wild West. With a monarchy.


An excerpt is found here.

This series provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: That antagonism between Corelle and Jerin.
  • Action Mom: Kij Porter, a mother, a badass and a captain of her own ship. And the Big Bad.
  • Adoption Is Not an Option: Adoption is forbidden by the local religion on the grounds that if the women in a family can simply give away unwanted girl children, they'll just get pregnant over and over again in the hopes of producing a boy. This is shown to have negative results when a family that can't afford to buy a husband then has no children and no one to pass their property on to after they die. Averted at the end when the Whistlers secretly adopt Eldie Porter, to prevent her being executed for the crimes of her mother.
  • Aerith and Bob: Here are the names of the Whistler children—there are a total of twenty-eight girls/women and four boys—given in order of mention: Jerin, Corelle, Eldest, Pansy, Violet, Kai, Doric, Leia, Blush, Summer, Eva, Kira, Heria, Liam, Emma, Celain, Kettie, Birdie, and Bunny. Not all are named in the book. This effect may be due to the fact that the children were born to (and presumably named by) various mothers within the family.
    • Here are the names of the princesses given in birth order: Rennsellaer, Halley, Odelia, Trini, Lylia, Zelie, Quin, Selina, Nora, and Mira.
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  • All Women Are Lustful: When he's out in public, Jerin is eyed ceaselessly with jealousy or speculation, even with his heavily armed sisters there to protect him. When he puts his veil up for a bit, he's chastised for tempting people; later he's dissuaded from going out alone because he is not safe.
  • Arranged Marriage: Mothers and/or sisters get to choose who a man will marry, families differ on which gets the deciding vote. Jerin claims that one of his uncles was allowed to "choose his wives" probably meaning he was given his choice of a short list of acceptable offers.
  • Baby Factory: The men in the cribs are the male variant.
  • Battle Harem: Mess with Jerin and you will have five furious warrior princesses at your throat note , not to mention fifty or sixty mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins all trained as fighters and thieves.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Or, "Be Scantily-Clad to Get Your Women", A magazine of "men's fashions" includes codpieces to let prospective wives have a better view of what they're buying. Jerin is scandalized, moreso when he has to go to court and actually wear one.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Keifer, who is described as having been very beautiful, but also stupid and cruel, is a straight example. Jerin, also noted for his beauty, subverts this by being both intelligent and very kind-natured.
  • Beneath Suspicion: The princesses never suspected their sisters-in-law, the Porters to be the ones who betrayed them because of the losses to their own family in the explosion that killed the elder princesses.
  • Big Brother Bully:
    • Corelle is nasty toward Jerin in the first chapter—but then she's suffering from teenage hormones for the Boy Next Door. She gets better.
    • There are indications that Princess Eldest was enforcing orders to her siblings with a riding crop. She also half-convinced Trini that it was her own fault that Keifer hurt her.
    • Borderline with Eldest Whistler. None of her siblings seem to find it at all surprising when she slaps Corelle hard during an argument over Corelle's interest in Balin Brindle.
  • Big Brother Instinct: The women of Queensland care very much for their brothers, sons, and other menfolk. Basically women are expected by other women to behave like cornered wolverines if they have "men to protect."
  • Big Brother Mentor: How elder sisters are expected to teach younger sisters, and for the most part they do. The sister-bond seems to be very strong, even when you don't like each other, you love each other.
  • Bi the Way: Some women pleasure others for money. Cira mentions that she had a lover once, a beautiful young officer who was a whore's daughter, but after Cira was scarred she couldn't bear to touch her or look at her.
  • Black Sheep: Corelle, of the Whistlers. Handled unusually, because instead of side-line her or throw her out (she's got about twenty sisters, anyway), the elders recognize a strong character under her Jerkassery, decide it's vital for the family's interests, and straighten her up.
  • Bleed 'em and Weep: Jerin is horrified when Cira clocks someone with a stone paperweight. Not long after, he shoots a Porter woman to save Cira and holds absolutely still for several minutes, overcome with reaction. Of course five or ten minutes later he is using the woman he killed as a dead weight to keep the whistle going to bleed steam out of the boilers. Jerin's a Whistler, necessity trumps emotion every time.
  • Blood from the Mouth: A dead body is found with dried blood filling the mouth; the investigators conclude that the tongue was cut out and the victim likely died of it.
  • Blondes Are Evil: The villains of the piece The Porters are all blonde.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Eldie Porter's parents were culturally brother and sister, genetically full-blooded cousins. note 
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: When Ren seduces Jerin, he "takes the edge off" of lust on both their parts by resorting to the techniques his father taught him for pleasing a woman, which are never described but appear to involve oral sex. They could go from there to outright penis-in-vagina intercourse, but with great difficulty he refrains so he can remain a Technical Virgin. Also, he refuses with Cira until she tells him she's another of the princesses, so it's okay, since she's one of his wives.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A whole set of them, set up far, far in advance and referenced a few times to keep the reader's memory fresh. Jerin was taught to read and write, and how to run, climb, ride, shoot, and defend himself, as well as how to pick locks, use sleight of hand, and know when to lie. He's still a Non-Action Guy, but spirited about it.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Cullen Moorland, the only non-Whistler male to have a speaking role in the book, and his cousin the princess Lylia, who smuggles him lewd tintypes and educates him on what she knows. They have a pact that whoever has sex first tells the other everything. Cullen is seen as harmless and kind of adorable, Jerin finds Lylia slightly threatening in an exciting way.
  • Civil War: The War of the False Eldest, which took place several generations ago is important for many reasons:
    • It was during this war that the Whistlers went from a group of thieves and smugglers to a family of landed gentry, and stole themselves a secretly royal husband.
    • It establishes the ability of a big enough family to "split"—but also explains why the royal family in particular can't take this option anymore, and why a family thinking about splitting would be wise to have a second line of work for the new branch to take on.
    • The aftermath of the war set a major precedent for the extermination of rebel houses down to the very last child, nobility or not.
    • An opera about this conflict also becomes an important part of the backstory in and of itself.
  • Cool Big Sis: Eldest Moorland is willing to accept a "Brother's Price" less than half of what her sibling Cullen is worth simply because his happiness means more to her than the money.
  • Covered with Scars: Cira only has one on her face, but they're all over her back.
  • Crapsack World: The main characters are shielded from the worst of it, but oh boy. First, if you're a man, you're property, period. The best you can hope for is that your wives treat you well, and you may well wind up in a crib, where you'll be drugged to incoherence and studded out, probably catching a disease somewhere along the way. If you're a woman, things can still be very far from awesome, given ubiquitousness of poverty and high levels of social stratification, whole families are held to account for the actions of a single member, and if you're orphaned, God help you, because no one else will, seeing how adoption is outlawed by their religion (explained by one character as "it encourages the idiots to overproduce in vain hopes of a boy"). The same religion holds that the ruling dynasty is descended from the gods, by the way. The place appears to be an absolute monarchy (the princesses all seem decent enough, but still), has a thriving thieves' guild, and is so badly run that a bunch of masked women known only as "the Hats" can drum up enough support among the River Trash for overthrowing the government to be considered a legitimate option.
  • Crossdressing Voices: In-universe. An operatic male role is played by a woman who sings in the alto range.
  • Damsel in Distress: The first major action Jerin takes is to go out, pick the injured princess Odelia up out of a river, and carry her home. His sister Heria found her but wasn't big or old enough to carry her so far herself, and sending out the other middle sisters to get her would leave the boys and the littlest girls mostly unprotected, so Jerin went with Heria to protect him. This is the incident portrayed on the misleading cover.
  • Dances and Balls: The Mayfair summer season is stuffed with these. We only see the opening ball given by the Queens but presumably the activity goes on in the background as the rest of the plot proceeds
  • Dangerous 16th Birthday: Sixteen is the age of marriage, when men leave their families to be joined to new ones. The upcoming occasion is cause for great apprehension for Jerin.
    • While women can marry at practically any age (including before they are even born—they are considered married to their sisters' husband if they already have one) sixteen is when they come of age as well, and start to be serviced by their husband.
  • Death by Childbirth: A real fear, though "normal" miscarriages and stillbirths are more common.
  • Deconstruction: Of traditional gender roles, and the idea that men cannot be victimized by women, or by social systems.
  • Defiled Forever: For men and women both, sex outside of marriage is seen as very sketchy due to the fear of venereal disease. In this world such diseases can be tested for (we are shown that such technology is in its infancy), but cures aren't mentioned, and the stigma is high. Jerin is terrified of this fate, knowing that his family's economic future rides on the "brother's price" they'll get from him; if he is raped, then in order to pay off their debts, they'll have to sell him to a crib, where he'll be numbered and drugged and forced to service women night after night.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The men-as-property and polygamy aspects aside, the whole family is usually held accountable for the actions of one member so that a family can't simply commit treason and then sacrifice one person, becoming more willing to repeat the offense as revenge. This means that if treason is committed, the whole family is executed down to the children. Ren is distressed at the thought of killing her little "niece" Eldie Porter, but the Whistlers took a third option and adopted her without telling her what her mothers did.
    • One of the aspects of the sororal polygamy means that your sister falling in love with the man you want to marry is actually a good thing in the setting.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Alissa Porter. Apparently the gender of her lover means less to her than the fact that she's stealing them from Princess Halley.
  • Disappeared Dad: Jerin and Ren both have dead fathers.
  • Dismissed Gender: A lot of the things men of this world are subjected to have been and still are applied to women in our world, and they're horrifying to think about. But there are various hints, some of them big, that these things haven't been Gender Flipped merely to make them more acceptable to the readers.
    Eldest: We don't blame you, honey.
    Jerin: I could have fought.
    Eldest: She's a princess. All her life people have obeyed her commands. You're a boy. All your life you have listened to others. It was up to her to stop at any no you have, even if it was whispered.
    • At one point Ren and Jerin have a purely philosophical conversation about how their society would be different if it were Gender Flipped, and Jerin concludes that no matter what the male:female ratio is, a woman's consent is more important than a man's, because pregnancy will always make the consequences of sex riskier for women than for men. Amusingly Ren at first assumes that babies are the only "reward" of marriage. Regular sex doesn't figure.
    • Ren also tells Jerin that even in that situation, a man has the right to say no.
  • Distressed Dude: Jerin, several times. He's not entirely helpless in these situations, but he'd have been in very bad shape without assistance. On the other hand his resourcefulness and unusual skills seriously impress Cira.
    • Dude Out of Distress: When he's taken captive, his own skills and his initiative are vitally important to his escape.
  • Does Not Like Men: Princess Trini, initially, for good reason.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: Standard procedure in Queensland where many families swap brothers thus saving themselves the price of a husband.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Averted but not completely inverted. One of the first thoughts Jerin has in the book is that if he killed the sister who's always needling him people would shrug it off, though we quickly see that not only would he never actually hurt her, he's constantly aware that her anger, directed towards him, is much more dangerous than his anger at her. However, Keifer's assault on his young wife is taken very seriously by her middle sisters (if not the elder ones), and could have been grounds for divorce.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Inverted. Keifer, who was married to the princesses, fought often with his then-13-year-old wife, and at one point stunned her with a blow to the head, tied her to his bed, and abused her. This abuse includes rape, but her sisters describe it as "servicing" her, and the sexual aspect is seen as less awful than his breaking her nose and some of her fingers, blacking her eyes, burning her with a hot iron, and threatening to cut her face. On the other hand, when Eldest Whistler thinks that one of the princesses has raped her brother, she is murderously angry even though he has not been physically harmed.
  • Driven to Suicide: A woman of one family is mentioned to have killed herself after hearing the news of many of her family dying in several horrible accidents within days of each other. It's also said that men sold into bad marriages sometimes kill themselves.
  • Dumb Blonde: According to pretty much everyone who knew him Keifer was very, very pretty but also very, very stupid. Cullen averts this trope by being of at least average intelligence, if a bit keet.
  • The Dutiful Son: Jerin in spades; he cooks, he cleans, he takes care of his younger siblings and he worries about making a good marriage that will benefit his family.
  • Dye or Die: Cira, to keep the Significant Green-Eyed Redhead thing from letting anyone know she's royal. Also Eldie Porter, at the end, to help her fit in among the Whistler children.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: As they go over the Inevitable Waterfall Cira cries "Jerin, I love you!" They both survive. Fortunately for them both Cira turns out to be one of the Princesses and so Jerin's wife—which she thought he knew when she made her declaration.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Jerin is convinced, with reason, that he and his wives have done this. After all they've gone through the gods will surely reward them with a happily ever after.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Jerin is seen as very beautiful, and... people tend to take liberties. He's very uncomfortable with it and has to all but hide behind his protective sisters.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Ren finds Eldest Whistler almost as striking and beautiful as her brother Jerin.
  • Exact Words: Cira tells a group of women intending to group together to start a new family of "sisters", which she's been invited to join, that she's "done second in line" and that "some" felt she "was usurping my sister's authority", so she left. Details she's leaving out include that she's Halley, currently the second eldest living princess, behind Ren, that she was the natural leader of her age group among her sisters, and that she was the one who felt she was getting in the way of her current Eldest's authority, since most found it more natural to look to the more dominant Halley for leadership over the less confident Ren.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: The people of Queensland practice sororal polygyny with all the sisters of a family sharing a single husband. This can mean as many as thirty wives, a number that Jerin finds downright intimidating. Families with extra brothers to trade (or enough money to buy another husband outright) can "split" into multiple family units, so that the sister-wife groups can be smaller and narrower in age. Jerin's family has a comparatively high male birthrate, so they have been able to do this in the past.
  • Family of Choice: Eldest Whistler states that she believes her family began when "a group of women banded together and called themselves sisters."
  • First Girl Wins: Sort of. The first woman Jerin gets physically close to who isn't a relative is Odelia, who finds him amazingly attractive. The woman who seduces him and he first falls in love with is Ren. However, since they are sisters, marrying Ren means marrying Odelia too, and Jerin falls in love with her, too.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Odelia feigns being more badly hurt than she actually is out of a hope for Jerin to keep tending her, fantasizing about stealing a kiss from him. She later mentions how good he was at comforting her when she first woke up.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Odelia and Ren, the two princesses Jerin meets first and the two eldest (counting the absent Halley out). Odelia is happy-go-lucky and would rather kiss pretty boys than take up any royal duties, while Ren, not so above kissing (and more) pretty boys herself, is a The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask.
  • Foreshadowing: When Cullen is telling Jerin about his Practice Kiss with Lylia, he says it was like kissing his own sister, then adds, "I'm sure kissing your sister wouldn't be the same". By the end of the book, Cullen is married to some of Jerin's sisters, at least one of whom is pregnant.
    • When they're made to leave the theater, during a play about an attempted coup, Ren and Halley argue over whether the entire family—even the youngest children—of the would-be royal usurpers should have been killed. Ren argues for mercy to the children, while Halley is adamant that ending the whole family was the only practical course. They repeat the argument at the end of the book, when they learn which family has been trying to kill off the royal sisters. There is also a young child in that family.
  • Friend to All Children: Jerin is good with kids but doesn't let them walk all over him, even the little princesses, which makes him look that much more suitable as a husband.
  • Fully-Clothed Nudity: A nightdress that falls to the knee. It's practically as decent as a walking robe! ...only not, if it's all you're wearing when your trip to the kitchen for a midnight snack is interrupted by a horny princess.
  • Gender Rarity Value: Men are carefully secluded and protected from "husband raids", which are illegal but always at the edge of Jerin's mind. It's mentioned that outside of some public events, a woman may never see an unveiled man who isn't her father or grandfather or, if she's lucky, her brother or her husband. Women who were fathered in the cribs may never have seen a man at all.
  • Gibberish of Love: Poor Jerin.
  • Good Pays Better: Jerin's grandmothers were common thieves, until one of them was caught by some military official and argued that thieves would make excellent spies for the government. She succeeded, and after the war, the surviving sisters were knighted. Jerin's family is quite well off when the novel takes place, and while they do have the skills to be excellent thieves, they are firmly on the side of good and government.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Cira has an enormous silvery scar on her face that healed well, so it's not raised. She also has similar scars all over her body. In-story she's seen as ambiguous for quite some time, and it turns out that she's the missing princess Halley.
  • Guile Hero: Cira/Princess Halley.
  • Hand on Womb: Upon their arrival at Jerin's wedding, Cullen is seen doing this to Eldest Whistler.
  • Happy Ending: Here, the last lines of the novel, occurring after great strife.
    Surely, the gods were merciful and loving. Surely they smiled upon this union, and he and his wives would live happily ever after.
  • Harmless Lady Disguise: Women are not the "harmless" sex in this world, but in a sense it still applies. Whores are women who prostitute themselves to other women and often try to look like men. At one point Jerin goes out disguised as one of them and is amazed at how little attention is paid to him.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: The "flame haired" Princesses seem to affect our protagonist like an aphrodisiac—every one of them. Even when that hair is hidden under dye.
  • Heroic Bastard: All of the Whistler grandmothers were fathered on trips to "cribs", sort of brothels that women too poor to marry visit with the aim of becoming pregnant. So in a sense they are Daughters of Prostitutes.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Keifer was assigned to have the older princesses go to a theater so when it caught fire they would be killed. It was specifically chosen so he could duck out the back and escape, but he missed his cue and stayed; Eldest Porter came to fetch him but was killed as well.
  • Holding Hands: What happens when Trini finally warms a bit to Jerin.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: "Easy as mud: dirt and water," "Bad apples only come from apple trees," and "It's a tasteless stew, but it's all we have to eat." The Whistlers also have a family-specific saying, variations on "Catch a shining coin."
  • Honor Before Reason: Averted by the Whistlers. Jerin gives his "word of honor" he will cooperate and not try to escape if only the villains will spare Cira, who is a little shocked when he breaks his word at the first opportunity. He retorts that you meet liars and traitors on their own level—and in his opinion allowing himself to be raped would be much worse.
  • House Husband: Any man not too young to marry or in the cribs.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Captain Raven Tern.
  • I Lied: When Cira reminds Jerin he gave their captors his word of honor not to try to escape he replies with this trope.
  • I Miss Dad: Both Jerin and Ren had warm, loving fathers who they miss terribly.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: Hera's Step.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Inasmuch as this is possible in a non-illustrated book. Egan Wainwright was repeatedly called handsome, to the point of being shown to visiting royalty. When he's found murdered and stripped, the narration says he had "no dignity in death" and notes scrawny hairy legs and a paunchy stomachnote . Somewhat justified, though; this is a world where men are so rare and so rarely seen that any one with all his teeth and both eyes is considered attractive.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Fashionable
  • I Wished You Were Dead: Princess Halley said she wished Keifer was dead the moment before a bomb went off in the theater he—and several of her older sisters—were inside of.
  • The Jail Bait Wait: Sort of. When a man is married into a family, he marries all of the sisters, regardless of age—including children and any unborn or yet-to-be-conceived daughters of the mothers. He's not to service his wives until they are of age, and a chunk of the responsibility for caring for and nurturing younger wives falls to him.
  • Jerk Ass: Corelle. She gets better later, but her personality remains on the rougher side. Alse, Keifer Porter, who lacks any positive qualities or sensible relatives who would prevent him from becoming cruel and spoiled rotten.
  • Kiss Diss: Jerin does this to Kij when she makes a public move on him, stepping away from her to allow his sister to intervene. He dislikes her as a person, is already in love with at least one of the princesses, is in a culture that strongly disapproves of such contact between a man and a woman who are not married to each other, and is embarrassed by the public setting. Entitled much, Kij?
  • Kissing Cousins: Spoilery example aside, Ren and Jerin share great-great-grandmothers, making them third cousins. There's also mention of a Practice Kiss having been tried between cousins Lylia and Cullen. It is later made clear that cousin marriages are acceptable as long as the biological relationship is no closer than first half-cousins. The princesses can't marry their cousin Cullen because his biological mother and the late Prince Consort were full siblings.
  • Lady Land: What Queensland appears to be, since men are so carefully protected. There's a big procession in the city at the end of the book, in which it's noticed that there are even some men at the upper stories of buildings watching.
  • Let's Wait a While: Despite the undeniable attraction Jerin feels for Ren, he doesn't want to "go all the way" until they're engaged. Well, he does, but he knows they shouldn't, and he feels ashamed for going as far as he did.
  • Lineage Comes from the Mother: Noble or royal blood through the father gives status (most of the Queensland nobility became so by marrying a royal prince) but land and titles descend only through the female. In addition, birth certificates list the child's pedigree for generations, but solely following the maternal line.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Any attractive man.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Princess Eldest and the nine other princesses that made up the eldest group of princesses were so blindly in love with Keifer that they let him treat them poorly and refused to give him back after he raped Trini. Their love is what got them killed.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: Keifer often withheld sex in conjunction with throwing raging fits in order to get his wives to go along with whatever he wanted. His older wives were madly in love with him, so it tended to work. And he cheated on them anyway.
  • Keet: Cullen is rather excitable.
  • Marital Rape License: Marital Gang Rape License, to be precise, though it's more because of the babies than for fulfilling sexual needs. It's even discussed—women admit that in this society, where a family's existence can literally depend on having a son (to swap for a husband) and the odds of conceiving one are so low, they just can't afford to raise boys to say "no." Jerin is terrified of the prospect of having to "service" the thirty less-than-desirable Brindle women.
    • Cuts both ways—the first husband of the princesses took liberties with Trini that amounted to rape, but since they were married no one batted an eye.
  • Marry for Love: what Jerin really wants is to marry into a family he'll love instead of simply enduring. He gets his wish, falling in love with all the princesses.
  • Marry Them All: Luckily for Jerin, all of the women to whom he's attracted turn out to be the royal princesses.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Somewhat, by our standards. More attention is paid to beautifying males, who have long flowing hair and do domestic things. Jerin is actually somewhat feminine by their standards, since he was taught to do things men usually don't learn.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Jerin has twenty-eight sisters and three brothers. Then again, they were born to twelve mothers. Families with decent male birthrates (or a lot of money to buy more husbands) can split occasionally to work against this, but for a family like the Brindles (thirty women and only one brother), it will only get worse.
  • A Match Made in Stockholm: Jerin's grandfather was abducted.
  • Matriarchy: A variant of the "gender-flip of patriarchy," complicated by the change in male:female ratio.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Corelle seems to have a bad case of this. In fact dividing a family's numerous daughters into "eldest", "middle" and "youngest" cadres seems to be standard practice in Queensland. Since family authority goes strictly by seniority you can imagine how much this must suck for assertive younger sisters.
  • Missing Moms: The Whistler mothers are elsewhere for a good chunk of the book, though they do come back.
  • Motherhood Is Superior: Inverted, as it is men's responsibility to care for the children... if there is a man in the family. Also, it is expected of teenage brothers to care for their baby sisters, and the failure to do so is noticed by potential wives—Balin Brindle leaves it to his frail old father to care for the babies—Summer Whistler does not approve. She understandably wants to marry a man who is good with children.
  • Mundane Luxury: Jerrin revels in simply getting to sit down and eat a meal without having to prepare it himself first.
  • My Biological Clock Is Ticking: Sort of. Eldest Whistler, twenty-eight years old, would like to have one child before menopause. Having seen her mothers pregnant she's aware that sometimes they seem miserable, other times they almost glow, and she wants to experience it once. After that, she laughingly tells Jerin, she'll be happy to let her sisters bear the children.
  • Never Our Fault: When confronted by Jerin and Cira at the end of the book, Kij claims that all of her own and her family's misdeeds—which at latest count include treason, murder and attempted murder (including members of her own family), piracy, kidnapping, and smuggling—are actually the fault of the royal family, because the Porters lost money and property in the War of the False Eldest.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Ren and Halley survive the attack in the theater basically thanks to Keifer being an ass and sending Ren home. Better yet, this basically foils the attackers' plan of weakening the royal family by ultimately leaving the two most competent princesses (after their older sisters were implied cases of Love Makes You Dumb) as the eldest. Better yet, Keifer was actually the part of the enemies' party and was supposed to survive. His stupidity killed him, the Porters' Eldest, the princesses who sympathized with the Porters, and ultimately his family's influence at the court. What was left, were the middle princesses, who remembered him and the rest of the Porters' unfavorably and had learned their lesson how to and how not to choose and treat a husband, in charge now. Really, good job.
    • Trini is very, very reluctant to get married again and actively avoids both Jerin and her other sisters to the best of her ability. When Ren comes to her with legitimate arguments in favor, nothing at all seems to sway her until Ren offhandedly mentions the Porters have offered for Jerin. Immediately, Trini stops arguing and agrees with the marriage on the spot at least partly to spite the Porters. Had they not offered for Jerin, there was a good chance that Trini would've stayed against the marriage long enough to prevent it through sheer stubbornness. Making this even more entertaining, neither the villains nor Ren ever seem to notice how they practically handed Ren Trini's vote on a silver platter.
  • Never Be Hurt Again: Trini's reluctance to marry again.
  • Non-Action Guy: All men. Jerin manages to be a Spirited Young Man, though.
  • No Name Given: The late father of the princesses presumably had a name, but we never hear it. His daughters refer to him as "Papa" (apparently the customary term for one's father in this society, since Jerin's cousin also uses it referring to his own).
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. When the body of a man is found fresh in a shallow grave, his penis is bloody. An investigator believes he was raped by his murderers, and one or more was a virgin or menstruating.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Eldie Porter's parents, not that that makes it okay in-universe—just not so bad as it might have been. And they're still blood, just not siblings—they're what we would consider cousins.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Keifer—while actually stupid—used to act childish and ostensibly hysterical to manipulate his wives and meet his own ends.
  • Old Woman Marrying A Teen: Grooms are 16, the older brides are... well, not old, because they have to get there before menopause, but much more adult. A one point the "not young anymore" (by Ren's words) Kij Porter, presumably in her late 30s, makes advances to a not-quite-yet-16 Jerin. He's creeped, though probably more because he's scared of her as a person. Cullen Moorland on the other hand clearly welcomes Eldest Whistler's advances and she's 28 to his 16.
  • Parent–Child Incest: Suspected to occur among the Brindles. We would think of it more as "Aunt-Nephew Incest", but it's considered parent-child in this world. People consider it in the first place because of the general paucity of men and the high value of boy children, but there's a great taboo against it.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Jerin wishes this trope were in effect.
  • Perfect Health: Increases a man's value.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: When Jerin is moved into the palace husband quarters, he finds evidence that predecessor Keifer killed his father-in-law, father of the princesses.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Rare male version. Judging from the description male ballroom costume looks a lot like David Bowie's costumes in Labyrinth with a codpiece further emphasizing The Area.
  • Plot Armor: In-universe, Ren remarks that Odelia seems to have this. She gets beat over the head with an iron rod, very nearly killed and left for dead, then rescued by the grandchildren of knights and their beautiful brother, and Ren says that's about typical of Odelia's luck.
  • Posthumous Character: Keifer Porter, a right bastard even several years after his death.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: When Cira surprise kisses him, Jerin is pretty much flabbergasted and doesn't know what to say or think.
  • Practice Kiss: Cullen and Lylia have tried it, but since they're cousins who were raised together, Cullen cheerfully admits that it was like kissing a sister.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Ren: Keifer was a whoring, murdering slut! After murdering my father, he fucked women in our wedding bed!
  • Promotion to Parent: When his father dies, Jerin steps into the child-nurturing and house-tending role, and does well at it, since he'd been helping and learning from his father all along. The down side is that when they hear he's leaving to be married, his youngest sisters react as if losing another father.
  • Proper Men Can Cook
  • Pun: When discussing whores—women who service women for money—Jerin naively says they lack certain vital equipment, and Cira tells him they wear ivory prosthetics referred to as bones.
  • Questionable Consent: Jerin and Ren when Ren seduces him. He stresses that he really really wanted it, was enthusiastic when he realized that otherwise his only intimacy might be with the Brindles, and was quick to protest that Ren stopped when he said no after Eldest Whistler called it rape... but before he gave in he was babbling uncomfortably and looking for excuses to leave while she touched him.
    • Basically his heart was saying "Yes, yes, yes" and his mind was saying "No, no, no" fatally complicating the issue of consent.
  • Quitting to Get Married: Jerin meets his old teacher, Miss Skinner, on a ship. She is getting married, and quitting her job. Played with in that she doesn't have to quit, and she doesn't even know the man she's going to marry - it's just that her sisters and she have finally saved enough money to be able to afford a husband.
  • Raised by Chicks: Presumably this world's equivalent of Raised by Dudes. Men are seen as, and act as, the more nurturing sex; they are expected to be the primary child-rearers. Due to the scarcity of males, however, some families have no resident "father." Children of such households would necessarily be raised by the less-nurturing gender—that is, women—and might be expected to lack some of the finer social skills of their "properly" reared counterparts.
    • Cullen was this.
  • Ramming Always Works: The Red Dog versus the armor-plated gunboat.
  • Red Right Hand: Played with. The Porter-children born after Eldest and Kij carry a recessive gene displaying itself by a person having eleven toes. Eldest is dead and her character is not known, and Kij is the White Sheep of the family. It's unknown if Keifer had it, but his and Kij's daughter, Eldie, does, which clues in Ren because it would be unlikely that a random man from the cribs would also have this specific gene. This revelation serves as a sign of villainy not for her, but for her mother.
  • Romance Novel: Jerin mentions the adventure novels his sisters read, which always involved secret passages into the mens' quarters. The daring heroines used them to save their true loves from heartless mothers, cruel sisters, abusive wives, and vile kidnappers.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Princesses seem to be very busy young ladies. All the adult sisters have offices where they seem to spend a good deal of time. One of their jobs is acting as judges in court cases.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Mentioned. The family is bound by law to provide hospitality to the injured soldier, and Ren's words after she seduced Jerin imply that she knows this to be a breach of the rules of hospitality.
  • Sent Into Hiding: Alannon was kept secret by the grandmothers ... he was a prince, although not a Hidden Backup Prince (he was not heir to the throne), and their kidnapping him from a palace under siege was not entirely legal. They were determined to keep him, even though the royal family (the one that had wiped out his branch of the family) searched for him for a long time.
  • Shell Game: Jerin uses this as a teaching tool with the youngest princesses, explaining to them why they need to know how to spot when someone's not being honest with them.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Cullen Moorland is exceptionally sheltered even by Queensland standards and cannot wait to cook, clean and take care of his home and wives like other men—also learn to ride.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: The royal princesses all fit this trope.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Prince Allanon is a rare male example. He was a beautiful, dignified, quietly regal man who had his wives twisting themselves into pretzels to please him. And he saw to it his sons and grandsons were raised to be the same as Jerin demonstrates.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: More like Multiple Sisters Seek Good Man. Either way having a caring nature and being good with children are seen as highly desirable traits in a prospective husband.
  • Shipper on Deck: Towards the end of the novel Cullen is pushing for his sisters to marry Jerin's cousin Dail. Apparently the idea is being taken seriously by both families.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Jerin's father died within a year of the book's start. Mother Elder was with him the night before he catastrophically slipped and fell, and initially thought she wasn't pregnant but going through menopause. Also implied to be the case of Eldie Porter. The official reason of her existence is that Kij went to a crib to cope with Keifer's death. To be born in the right timeframe to make this believable, she must have been conceived a quite a short time before the theater exploded.
    • Cullen was this, his father having died before he was born.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Initially appears this way. Jerin and his family saved the Princess Odelia, and the end of the book has him marrying the princesses. Really it's more complex than that; the Princess Ren persuaded her Mother Elder to sponsor the Whistlers to come to the royal court, and a lot of time and effort is spent trying to bring Jerin's sisters and Ren's family to agree to the marriage.
  • Not So Standard Royal Court: Queensland has the royal family, royal retainers, royal guard, and scheming nobles of the Standard Royal Court but with a twist; all these roles from Queens down are played by cadres of up to twenty sisters.
  • Succession Crisis: There was one in the form of the War of the False Eldest which the effects of are still felt after two generations
  • STD Immunity: So thoroughly averted that it has a major impact on the culture.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: How Ren's father was killed—it was Keifer's doing, of course.
  • Technical Virgin: Jerin after being seduced by Ren. He has angst over it, worrying if it means his mouth isn't virgin now, or if it's a whole package deal.
  • Tender Tears: Jerin cries several times over the course of the book.
  • Terrified of Germs: Well, of sexually transmitted diseases. Since a man marries every sister in a family and is expected to service any of them who are of age, a single member of that group with an STD will pass it on to all of them, which in several cases has led to that family dying out. Fear of venereal disease has really affected the culture.
  • Theme Naming: Of a sort. The firstborn female of any family is always named Eldest. The Whistlers have the Mother Elder, the oldest of the mothers, and Eldest Whistler, the eldest of their daughters. A batch of experimental prototype cannons which were stolen before the book starts, which have a major subplot devoted to them, are called the Prophets and have names derived from the in-universe mythology: Joan, Bonnye, Anna, Judith, Gregor, Larisa, Nane, and Ami.
  • Tomgirl And Boyish Boy: Cullen, despite growing among the noble folk is rather wild and contemptuous of the rules. He's bored and longs to do more adventurous things, like riding a horse. Jerin in turn, who's grown up in a farm and got to do such "unladylike" things in his life, is much more proper and calm.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The noble house Wakecliff is mentioned in passing as having suffered one, having been wiped out over the winter save for a few women past bearing by a series of what would be serious tragedies in their own rightnote 
  • Unexpected Successor / Spare to the Throne: Ren didn't expect to be the leader of her generation of the royal family—note that she isn't named Eldest.
  • The Unfair Sex: Initially the book seems to suggest that in this world if a marriage is unhappy it's because the wives have all the power over the husbands. Certainly that's what Jerin is afraid of. Later we see that the husband can foster and spread misery just as well himself, and either may be blamed.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Sex between a man and a woman in which the man is willing is often referred to as him "servicing" her. Brothels stocked with men used to get poorer women pregnant are called "cribs".
  • Unwanted Harem: Men who marry do so with all the sisters of a family at once, and these can be large. Jerin's worst nightmare is being married to the Brindle family. There are thirty of them. He'd prefer a smaller family, with only around ten women he'd be expected to "service" and perform childcare and housekeeping for.
  • Villainous Incest: The Brindles, suspected to be incestuous, are seen as thoroughly repulsive to both Jerin and, to his relief, Eldest Whistler, who promises she won't trade him for their brother. Kij and Keifer Porter had sex and even a daughter before Keifer was killed.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: Women in this culture are generally expected to engage in whatever level of violence is necessary to protect the men in their family.
    • Kidnapping Jerin turns out to be a Berserk Button for all the adult princesses, who nearly get into a brawl in public over who's going to do what to rescue him. When they do get him back, a combination of this and in-universe laws that all sisters are to be put to death for one's offence means they consider wiping out the entire family involved in Jerin's abduction the only reasonable response to this offense.
  • Virgin Tension: When Jerin gets kidnapped, it's a big concern that—even if they can get him back—that he will be raped first, making him an unsuitable husband. He's not a virgin by this point, but it's thematically similar.
  • Wedlock Block: Ren runs into problems getting her mothers to approve a marriage to Jerin when her Mother Eldest insists that all the adult princesses agree, in order to avoid some of the problems they had with Keifer. Since Halley's missing and Trini really doesn't want to remarry, it's tough going for Ren.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: When Jerin first sees Cira, he's struck first by the scar on her face, then by the fact that it gives her face a degree of character and boldness that it otherwise lacks, and then she lifts his veil:
    Her eyes were green, green and changing as summer wheat, one moment dark as velvet, next light as silk, with long thick dark eyelashes. Gorgeous eyes. How could he have thought her plain with such eyes?
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The reader never does find out who changed the docket for the Wakecliff inheritance case, or what the outcome was.
  • Wife Husbandry: This aspect of Queensland marital customs is not explored but seeing as a husband is expected to care for little sisters (ie: his future wives) as well as his own children he definitely has an opportunity to mold them into the kind wives he wants them to be.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Ren has a hard time adjusting to being the eldest, and thus the head of her sisters, which is justified because she hadn't been born nor raised to that role.
  • Women Don't Cry: Right in the first chapter, Jerin's gently chiding a little sister who's bawling over a cut knee with "Big girls don't cry." Men, on the other hand, do cry.
  • World of Action Girls: The default. Every Whistler, including the boys, is trained to some degree in fighting. There's a mention once of "teams of little girls" loading and aiming rifles when they think someone's about to raid the house.
  • You Know Too Much: Jerin tries to warn the river trash that their employers the Porters will kill them because they will be able to identify those employers. The river trash don't believe him. But he's right.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Cheating as seen as immensely low for all parties involved because it invites the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases running rampant. Keifer cheated on his wives with his sister.
  • Your Makeup Is Running: Cira puts lip paint on Jerin to better disguise him as a whore, then they start kissing and she laughingly says she'll have to do it over.


Example of: